ZAG Travel Sponsorship
(previously referred to as ZAG "Scholarship" Opportunity)

One of ZAG’s goals is to help its members gather more information about the zoo/aquarium retail industry to make the best buying decisions possible for their facility’s gift shops. A large part of that involves knowing what vendors and product lines are available in order to make decisions on which vendor has the best products at the best prices. One way to gain this knowledge is by attending trade shows. However, not every facility has the budget to send their merchandise buyer to a show.

ZAG is pleased to announce that it will sponsor a ZAG member from two different facilities to attend both the International Gift Exposition in the Smokies (IGES), Sevierville, TN, running November 3-7, and the Smoky Mountain Gift Show (SMGS), Gatlinburg, TN, running Nov 5-9. The 2010 Annual ZAG Week will take place during this time, and the two selected buyers will be able to take part in many ZAG Week networking activities, including the Annual ZAG Business Meeting and Dinner. ZAG will cover each member’s transportation, lodging and meals. In addition, ZAG will provide a “mentor” for each recipient who will help them navigate the shows, meet fellow buyers, and provide valuable gift industry related insight while at the shows.

In order to qualify for the sponsorship, each recipient must:

• Be available November 5-8, 2010
• Be employed by an institution that has not provided funds for gift buyers to attend national gift shows in the past five years
• Come from a facility with attendance of 200,000 or less
• Attend Annual ZAG Week-sponsored networking functions, including the ZAG members’ Annual Business Meeting and Dinner on Saturday Nov. 6
• Be interviewed after their trip for a future ZAG newsletter article sharing their experiences at the shows, the new vendors and product lines they found, and any suggestions they have for other ZAG members who can’t get to a gift show.

The deadline for submitting an application is Saturday July 31. A random drawing of all applications received will be held in August and the winners will be notified by mail and phone by Wednesday, September 1. Click here to download the application or email to request an application.

This is a great and unique opportunity to dramatically expand your list of vendors and industry contacts in order to offer your guests fresh and exciting new product.

Welcome, New ZAG Members!

Please welcome the following new ZAG members:

  • Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary, Jim Thorpe, PA
  • Briarwood Ranch Safari Park, Bybee, TN
  • Bright’s Zoo, Limestone, TN
  • Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, Jupiter, FL
  • Deer Ranch, St. Ignace, MI
  • Downtown Aquarium, Denver, CO
  • Downtown Aquarium, Houston, TX
  • Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, Dubai, UAE
  • Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, Stuart, FL
  • Global Wildlife Center, Folsom, LA
  • Puerto Rico Zoo, San Juan, PR
  • Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo, Tupelo, MS
  • Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Eureka Springs, AR


ZAG Sponsors Identify Trends for 2010

We asked our ZAG sponsors what trends they have noticed for the 2010 season, now that they’ve seen most of their key customers at trade shows or in their showrooms.  Here’s what they had to say.

Nicole Rubino of L.A. Mart Gift + Home (California Gift Show) notes that buyers are replenishing their inventories after a strong finish in 2009.  Overall, they saw more optimism and higher orders being placed throughout the show from every type of buyer.  Buyers are shopping closer to home and are still very cost conscious, looking for items that retail at $49 and under to meet the demands of cost conscious consumers.  Some common trends seen in their exhibitors at market were nautical and vintage-themed merchandise, and products incorporating nature, birds and butterflies.  Other trends identified were handcrafted items, Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show September 22-24, 2010products made in the USA, Fair Trade items, world/ethnic products, and eco-friendly and sustainable chic products.  Tim von Gal of Urban Expositions reported that buyer attendance increased by 70% at their Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Showthis past September.  The next show, scheduled for September 22-24, is expanding with 50% more lines than last year and is offering hotel rates as low as $15.99 (at the newly renovated Tropicana Hotel), allowing buyers to get everything done in one trip. 

In apparel, Jolene Marsh says that The Duck Company is well known for their bright and colorful humorous designs.  They are finding that for 2010 their accounts are making solid buying decisions based on graphic concepts that have been proven winners in the past, which are the classic Duck designs.  Polar Graphics has noticed an increased demand for value-added products, says Ali Shearer.  Their “Find Hidden Animals” collection has been a big hit this year because it is unique and entertaining.  The collection showcases ten different animals on t-shirts, mugs and totes.  From black bears to sea turtles, each design incorporates hidden animals and comes with a sticker that reveals the hidden location.  Another example is their Poopin’ Animal Keychains, which although are gross and silly, are definitely a hot item, and they have added a few new animals to their 2011 catalog.   

Michele Heritage of EMI Sportswear has been seeing that most buyers are looking for something unique and different, and there has been a strong interest in their unique treatments and washes.  Although that might mean a higher price point, the perceived value makes it worth the price.  Michele says their early season reorders are showing that this is working with their customers.  Mike Galer of Prairie Mountain is finding t-shirt sales strong, especially on value oriented promotional priced goods, since he says they focus on great designs with great pricing.  People seem comfortable spending their money on items that are useful and carry a reasonable price tag.  Animal stripe youth shirts are retailing extremely well, as are all their glow in the dark designs.  Green shirts, either recycled or organic, are a definite growth category in both youth and adult sizes.  Good designs and reasonable prices will keep sales strong for several years.  Fashion Fit T’s produced from closed end ring spun cotton continue to gain market share as all age groups seem to be buying into the younger, softer feel of these adult shirts.

Price is a driving force these days and Carol Baker of OPI/Ohiopyle Prints is seeing many customers opting for less expensive garments, such as basic tees and sweatshirts.  Carol is also seeing a trend towards more simple graphics.  OPI’s combo packages have been their hottest sellers.  These include a hat/tee, sweatshirt/tee, 2-tee and 3-tee combo, plush/youth tee and a water bottle/tee combo.  The customer will recognize the value in these combo packages.  Frank Rempe of Jacobson Hats says children’s hats are still very strong with zoos and aquariums.  Jacobson has a child’s cap that is doing exceptionally well, a vintage washed w/plaid trim and distressed crown cap with a plaid circle appliqué on the front, style #23494.  Jacobson can embroider the circle appliqué with the zoo’s name, initials or even the year the zoo was established.

John Drummond reports that, “the best trend Out of Hand Graphics is seeing is reorders, reorders, reorders.  Our reorder business for the 1st quarter was way up over last year.  Buyers were cautiously optimistic during the fall trade shows, looking to plan business a little cleaner and closer to their needs and relying on quick fill-ins for the top sellers.  Our customers know this approach works well due to our ability and commitment to deliver quickly.  This creates better sell-through and a cleaner inventory.  Another trend we see is the movement toward diversified types of garments.  Whereas the industry used to be confined to printing on a basic t-shirt, the growing buying power of the junior market has created demands for more fashionable garments, such as the long length tees for little girls and the lighter weight slimmer fit tees for guys.  The v-neck and heather poly-cotton blends so successful for department stores and mall retailers have also given us a new market for printable garments.  While this is not the bulk of the business, it offers a more boutique type of look for the customer that doesn’t want to compromise fashion.”

Royal Resortwear also saw opening orders up over last year, and they have been getting some nice reorders since March 1.  Caps and buckets/Aussie hats continue to dominate their zoo line.  They have added more applications to their stock caps which enables buyers to purchase four dozen of a style on caps that normally are only available in large quantities done overseas.  Angelo Curmaci says they continue to produce great new art and embroidered paw prints, and animal collages are their best selling children’s designs on caps.  This year rain forest animals were huge, as well as fringe items for both boys and girls.  Angelo suggests everyone read the article from the New York Times about possible price increases in 2011 due to China’s changing economy and work force:

Cherie Lindstrom of Image West Apparel has seen a shift with some buyers ordering closer to due dates and ordering small quantities.  They are also watching their inventories closer and sending reorders sooner.  Image West has responded with a shorter delivery time on stock designs to get goods back on the shelves sooner.  They have had a tremendous response to their dramatic “Jumbo Plus” designs, which sends a clear signal that bold, colorful wildlife designs are still very strong.  

Nanco/Nancy Sales Co. Butterfly JournalPeter Seresky of Nanco/Nancy Sales Co has seen a continuation of two major trends of recent years:  green items and short run souvenirs.  This year their butterfly rings and full line of butterfly stationary products, both made out of recycled material, have been red hot.  They see more and more “green” items available overseas that can be adapted to the demands of our market.  The continued success of Nanco’s in-house short run imprint program provides buyers with more and more variety for their shelves.  Using the success of their overseas custom programDillon Importing Animal Umbrellas has translated into many orders for their etched glassware, promotionally priced mugs, and neon printed ceramics, to name a few.  In addition, all buyers gravitate towards trendy novelties.  This year, the shaped rubber band animal bracelets (zoo animals, sea life, dinosaurs) have been a big hit.  Jeff Goodner of Dillon Importing noticed during the winter shows that zoo buyers were spending more with them than they did in 2009.  Dillon has sold more animal umbrellas this year than ever before.  Are buyers predicting a wet season?

The trend David Landez of Esco Imports is seeing is the consumer continues to be price conscious.  They are foregoing the highest quality, highest priced products and looking for a balance between quality and price.  Esco sees stores thinking outside the box and putting in new items not necessarily themed to their attraction.  They understand that the consumer is looking Warm Fuzzy Toys Growing Animalfor affordable outings for their families.  Warm Fuzzy Toys has always found that offering low priced, fun toys and novelties with interactive elements has been a great formula for success.  Shelley says they look for that extra light up, movement or sound element that will surprise and delight kids.  Buyers are continuing to watch their dollars and they don’t see this trend ever going away.  Warm Fuzzy’s customers have placed cautious orders but with significant reorders coming in regularly, especially on the staples like their Flashing Friends, Water Wigglers, Putty, Tub O’Toys, Growing Animals and Wooden Stamp Sets.

Kalan/Funworks’ Dan Shoemaker says, “In the world of personalized products there have been some major shifts.  Although personalized products continue to be tremendous sellers, we have seen increased cautiousness to invest in large rack programs, especially from buyers new to personalized products.  Customers are not only looking for an increasingly larger spectrum of Kalan/Funworks Eco-Friendly Personalized Name Framesethnically diverse names to choose from, but they’re also trending towards environmentally friendly products.  Retailers are looking to decrease the amount of money invested in inventory and floor space.  We believe our Eco-Friendly Personalized Name Frames fill all these desires.  By offering a customized logo-stamped bamboo frame, which can be filled with recycled cardboard letter tiles (available in both zoo and aquarium themes), we are providing an eco-friendly personalized souvenir which allows the customer to spell any name, any way, in any language.  At the same time, retailer do not have money tied up in slower selling names and massive displays.”

Kiley Rose of Play Visions/Club Earth has noticed that although their zoo and aquarium Play Visions Trunk Sipperbusiness has really increased in total dollars, the number of products being bought has decreased.  Buyers seem to be pinpointing innovative products that are very unique, vs buying the normal open market toys they used to.  One example of this that combines a low price point with a unique aspect and has done very well with their zoo customers is Play Vision’s new Trunk Sipper ($2.50 cost, #SIEL), a soft flexible elephant trunk with a tube inside.  It makes you look like you’ve got your own elephant trunk and takes the crazy straw to a whole new level.   Puzzled focuses on basic educational toys that help bond the family with many hours of educational play time while targeting different age groups.  Jay Cohen said they recently brought in illuminated 3D puzzles with bright and attractive colors to create a high perceived value, and Glow in the Dark 3D puzzles.  All the 3D puzzles have pre cut pieces and number matching instructions.  For younger children Puzzled carries Peg, Fun, Raised, Shaped and the new Magnetic Fishing puzzles.  Buyers that need a custom design, package or name drop can contact them. 

Rhode Island Novelty/Adventure Planet’s John Fitzsimmons found buyers were ready to spend money because they held back in 2009 due to the sluggish economy.  Rhode Island Novelty/Adventure Planet AT-SAFC6 Baby Safari ChestThe magic retail price seems to be $9.99 and under for school groups and $19.99 for the general public.  Their Adventure Planet Half Pints are doing extremely well because it is almost impossible to find a quality piece of plush that retails for $4.99, and their sewn in eye “Shaggys” are selling very well because buyers are retailing them for $8.99 to 9.99.  Their animated PVC (AT-Safc6 safari and AT-DINC6 dinosaur) have been a home run for younger school kids.   Skullduggery carries a line of about 20 animal themed Eyewitness craft kits that cover zoo (lions, elephants, giraffes) and aquarium themes (dolphin, whales, penguins).  Peter Koehl has found that attractions with trains have had luck with their train Eyewitness kit.  Beginning with the 2009 fall shows in Gatlinburg and Sevierville, Safari LTD has experienced an upsurge in buying from zoos and aquariums, which Ramona Pariente feels were positively impacted by the tight economy since people are looking for fun experiences the entire family can share.  As an example, adults as well as young children love their extremely realistic replicas, such as their large sized Incredible Creatures and Wildlife Wonders collections, which are both educational and child friendly.

Sylvan Dell Publishing has seen orders placed with a larger variety of their children’s picture books this year compared to 2009, say Rob Carli.  What’s the Difference? An Endangered AnimalSylvan Dell Publishing "What's the Difference? An Endangered Animal Subtraction Story" Subtraction Story is a new release that has been added to most orders, along with Felina’s New Home: A Florida Panther Story, Little Red Bat and Panda’s Earthquake.   These new titles and all 50 of their educational titles can be previewed, along with free online resources which add value to the books.  They are offering free unlimited eBook access to all ZAG members for their education departments, which is expected to generate more sales in the gift shops.  Contact Rob at for more information.

USA-made products continues to be a trend, and Mr. Ellie Pooh’s “poo happens…!” line of cards and stationery are now being designed and letter pressed here in the USA, says Dr. Karl Wald. for a free card sample for all ZAG members.  Western Woods has seen a big shift in their jewelry category to stone pendants in the way of crystal points and other natural stones.  Daren Aitken is also seeing a larger amount of customers purchasing lessexpensive stone and mineral specimens (wholesale $.60-$.75) and retailing them at $1.99.  Buyers have been placing bigger orders for 2010 compared to 2009, and this has created an increase in 1st quarter business.  Western Woods has developed new display packages to capture the shift to less expensive specimens.  Marc St. Pierre of Cool Jewels has found consumers are buying with more price sensitivity for spring 2010 than in recent years.  They continue to purchase their souvenirs but are drawn to items at a lower retail, such as $9.99 and under, which have increased year after year.  Cool Jewels’ colorful cord bracelets packaged on small point of sale counter displays have been a huge hit this spring, offering guests a low $3.99 retail and retailers an 8x mark up.  Their “Save the Planet” and “Go Green” key pendant necklaces, with a variety of endangered animals and symbols that promote earth conservation and animal awareness, are selling well.  Cool Jewels is still experiencing strong sales and an up-trend on animal mood and UV items as well, again all items selling for $3.99 to $8.99.

Squire Boone Village (SBV) noticed an increase in buyer attendance at trade shows beginning in mid 2009, with orders being placed similar to pre 9/11 levels.  Karen Dutton also mentions buyers are branching out and ordering smaller quantities of a larger variety of items from their six divisions to hit $1200 to qualify for SBV’s free freight program, instead of going heavy on just a few items.  This allows buyers to cut down on the amount of backstocked inventory without missing out on huge freight savings.  One category that has done very well for SBV are zoo and ocean pencil climbers and sharpeners, which have a high perceived value, low price point, high gross margin, low minimum order quantity and can include a custom imprint.

The season started out with a bang for In the Breeze, manufacturer and distributor of outdoor decorative décor, and shows no signs of slowing down.  Trade shows have generated new customers and they are getting even larger orders from existing customers. In the Breeze Baby Bugs According to Anne Seile, their #1 selling category last year, baby bugs and baby birds, is again flying out the door, with a cost of $3.50 and a retail of $9.99-12.99.  Their themed twister category is running a close second with the addition of their new zoo and aquarium styles, with a $7.50 cost less 10% for ZAG members.  For a catalog of their other lines, include appliqué and dye sublimated kites, call 800-487-1417 or login at as an existing customer with password itb2004.

While NICI is new to the US market, they are leaders in the European plush and accessory categories for zoo and aquarium gift shops with their “Wild Friends” and “Forest Friends” assortments.  Kevin Vining says zoo buyers are very conscious of keeping children in mind whenNICI Wild Friends planning their assortment, since children are driving the purchasing decisions in the gift shop.  They are looking for their favorite animal in a soft, cuddly plush that also has character and personality.  It is also important that buyers build incremental sales.  NICI adds 2 to 3 new full range character worlds each year with coordinated character programs and accessories like key chains, magnetic MagNICIs, pencils, cases and stationery. 

Fiesta Swirl ElephantMichael Howe of Fiesta is seeing a trend towards brighter colors in plush.  Right now pinks, bluesand greens are selling well.  Also popular is value/promo plush and unique materials with different design patterns in sherbet colors.  Parents can buy a super soft, great size piece of plush for $10.00.  Fiesta offers a value line called “Swirls” available in monkeys, lions, tigers, hippos, elephants as well as a full selection of sea life “Swirls.”  

Anne Worton of Wishpets offers these trends for 2010:

  • An increase in customized plush for themed exhibits or a special event.  Orders for their name-dropped safari vest have been very strong for 2010.
  • Adding value, like Wishpets’ line of lollipops with finger puppet plush continues to grow.
  • Baby safe, such as a trend toward sewn in eyes.  Wishpets collection of colorful chenille fabric is infant safe while offering fun fashion at an affordable retail.
  • Perceived value, offering a well made product for under $10.  Wishpets new polar bear “stack” collection has been selling very well.  The 11” floppy polar bear can easily retail for under $10, and the bear comes in five sizes and makes a very cute display when they are stacked on top of each other.
Animaland, the interactive plush stuffing leader, realizes that the recession severely affected destination locations.  Because floor space is limited and gift shops need to maximize retail space, Animaland plans to offer a new stuffing machine package this summer at $2995 which will include $3000 of retail inventory along with a new tabletop stuffing machine.  Now all ZAG members can take advantage of the interactive stuffing craze.  Call or email Rebecca Gray at 800-511-0654 for more information.  Bears2Go ended 2009 with more than 9% growth over 2008, and their 2010 1st quarter sales are up 11% over last year.  Dennis Kalian attributes the growth in such a tough economic environment to bringing in a lot of new designs and styles like their signature zoo line of plush skins, as well as increasing their custom merchandise for their clients.  Bears2Go increased their inventories and the number of new products while other companies seemed to narrow their product line and reduce their inventory levels.  Bears2Go also offered their customers a lot of advice about what were the best sellers in each line.  Go to for more information.


Assiniboine Park Zoo

Julie Eccles & Leah McDonald
Assiniboine Park Zoo
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Please describe your facility…acreage, annual attendance, major exhibits, most popular animals, etc.
The Assiniboine Park Zoo is located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and has approximately 2,645 individual animals of 398 species in its collection.  It is one of the Winnipeg’s most popular attractions, with attendance ranging from 350,000 to 415,000 per year.  The zoo is open every day of the year.

The zoo is a great place for close-up viewing of animals from all corners of the world.  However, due to our local weather climate, the zoo specializes in cold-hardy species from northern latitudes and mountain ranges.

Please describe your merchandise operations…number of year-round shops, seasonal shops, square footage, seasonal carts, etc.
We have one year-round gift shop of 1,800 sq. ft.  It is at the entrance to the zoo and is accessible without having to pay zoo admission.  In the new master plans there will be several gift shops.

List some of your best-selling merchandise items and categories.   Where possible, please include specifics like vendor name, color, etc. 
Plush is our number one seller.  Rhode Island Novelty is one of our biggest suppliers in plush and children’s toys.  Even though we do not have giraffes in our zoo we do very well with any giraffe products (plush, puppets, baby, sound animals, jewelry, etc.)  We also carry Peepers (big-eyed plush) in small and medium sizes that are very popular from AMRAM’s.  This year we did a lot of new, green paper products (like poo poo paper), jewelry (Phillips International, Squire Boone and Killer Beads), and travel mugs and flasks (American Expeditions).  Our candy section has continued to expand and does really well with the school groups.Clothing is the #2 category with Mountain being the #1 Vendor. We do best with products that are very realistic and of course our animals specifically. We attempt to stay in those boundaries and Mountain has wonderful animal shirts both for adults and kids.

Are any items or categories trending downward in popularity? 
Post card sales have gone down but with traffic increasing we are seeing sales go up a bit.  Plush snakes are not as popular as two years ago.

What merchandise are you looking for that you haven’t been able to find?
The gift type of items like the antler sculptures, coasters and dream catchers.  Wind chimes, we couldn’t find the price points for our visitors.  More products for the 10-14 year olds, for instance zoo-related arts and crafts type materials.  We did go with the make your own gem stone pendant necklaces from Squire Boone.

What trends do you foresee in 2010?
Jewelry is expanding as is the aboriginal art and novelties sections.  Green items are a definite trend and people are willing to pay a big more for earth-friendly items.

Will there be any new shops, carts, or attractions in 2010?
Not in 2010, but hopefully in 2011-2012.

Do you have any special merchandise projects that are unique to your facility (for example, photo opportunities, special sale events, school bags, web site/catalog sales, gift cards, off-site shops)?
We are now a member of the Winnipeg Pin Collectors Club.  We will be selling a special Debby the polar bear collectors’ pin (from The Pin People, Laurie Artiss LTD), available only at the Assiniboine Park Zoo Gift Shop, as well as Debby keychains and magnets from Manitou Creations in Quebec.

Being in a relatively remote location like Manitoba, what do you do to manage your freight costs?
We purchase the majority (75%) of our Spring/Summer orders at the shows where free freight is offered.

What trade shows do you go to? 
Every year we go to the Rhode Island Novelty showroom and the International Gift Exposition in the Smokies in November. Buyers Forum Instructions

Check out the buyers forum for ZAG buyers only at Click here to download instructions on using the forum. Registration is required to access the forum. If you are a current ZAG member and have not registered yet, you will need instructions to complete your website registration. Please email to request instructions.

This forum is provided as a service to ZAG members to share information, or seek answers to questions concerning their respective Zoo or Aquarium gift shop and related merchandising needs. Please remember to be professional, and courteous when entering questions or responses on this forum. A moderator is available to help you with questions you may have as well as to help oversee the forum. Contact the moderator at Please remain especially aware of the need to protect the private nature of any financial agreements your Zoo or Aquarium has with specific manufacturers (i.e. do not post specific pricing information on products or freight terms etc. as this information is privileged between the supplier and the buyer and is protected by law). Thank you for your professionalism. The opinions and comments posted on this forum are not necessarily the opinions or policies of ZAG, Inc. and or its Board of Directors.


New ZAG Sponsors and 2010 Renewals

Please welcome the following new ZAG sponsors:

Please welcome back following renewing ZAG sponsors:


ZAG Benchmark Survey

The second ZAG-sponsored confidential survey regarding zoo and aquarium gift shop operations will be sent the first week in July. The survey will serve to establish general performance levels that store buyers can compare their own result to. The more responses received the more useful the information will be, so it is important that members fill out and send back the survey. The survey will be accessible on the ZAG website and email instructions are coming soon. If you prefer a paper version to complete, please contact

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